As the 2012-2013 television season is lowered into its grave, it's important to remember the moments that made us laugh, cry, and soil ourselves (in a good way). I've pestered the TV.com staff to name their favorite episodes and collected them below, because click-happy Best of 2013 lists are still half-a-year away and we have to pay the bills somehow. But really, with the major network season over, most big-name cable shows done for the year, and summer programming picking up, now's the perfect time to look back (see? There's logic here somewhere). The rules were simple: Anything that aired since the beginning of last summer qualified, and shows were allowed only one entry, for variety's sake.
Here they are, in no particular order.
Homeland's "Q&A" – Season 2, Episode 5
What made it one of the best: Most great moments of television are defined by action or a big reveal, but the best part of Homeland's second season was a conversation between its two leads. Showtime's hit featuring counter-terrorism and covert international political manipulation is really about the relationship—both professionally and romantically speaking—between Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody, and "Q&A"'s scintillating chat between the two (with Carrie doing most of the talking) perfectly captured both characters, their obstacles, and the difficult situation they found themselves in. In fact, this episode was so good that it's easy to forget "Q&A" was the same episode where Finn ran over that lady and started one of the season's worst storylines. —Tim Surette
Other great Homeland Season 2 episodes: "Beirut is Back," "New Car Smell," "The Choice"
The Good Wife's "Red Team, Blue Team" – Season 4, Episode 14
What made it one of the best: Among The Good Wife’s many strengths is the way it draws complex professional relationships that straddle the line between affection and self-interest. And some of its best episodes explore what happens when those relationships tilt too far in one direction or the other, such as this entry from the season’s crackerjack second half. A mock trial pitting Alicia and Cary against Will and Diane exposed simmering tensions within Lockhart Gardner, with terrific results. Plus, what’s more winning than Elsbeth Tascioni parrying the very Kyle MacLachlan-y thrusts of Kyle MacLachlan? —Andy Daglas
Other great The Good Wife Season 4 episodes: "Death of a Client," "The Wheels of Justice," "What's in the Box"
Enlightened's "The Ghost Is Seen" – Season 2, Episode 5
What made it one of the best: Mike White's impressive character study gave us one of TV's best in Amy Jellicoe, but it was this detour into the life of the enigmatic Tyler (played by White) that impressed the most. His quaking voiceover dragged us into the depths of loneliness and repitition that Tyler lived with, but by the end he was triumphantly reborn thanks to finding love (and the problems that come with it) from guest-star Molly Shannon. Emotional, hilarious, and insightful, "The Ghost is Seen" was a high point for one of the best series of the year. —Tim
Other great Enlightened Season 2 episodes: "Higher Power," "Follow Me," "Agent of Change"
Game of Thrones' "The Rains of Castamere" – Season 3, Episode 9
What made it one of the best: I wouldn't argue with you if you believe "And Now His Watch Is Ended" deserved this spot, but come on. THE. RED. WEDDING. Superlatives are often overused, but after much deliberation, I'm more than okay with declaring the final five minutes or so of "The Rains of Castamere" to be one of the most devastating and shocking scenes in television history. It's the kind of television that leaves scars because of the way it hits unsuspecting fans with deceptive pacing and relentless brutality. But "The Rains of Castamere" was more than just a crushing blow; from beginning to end, the episode felt special, as Dany's Three Musketeers teamed up to liberate a city, Jon Snow broke from the wildlings and stomped on Ygritte's heart, and Bran's eyes rolled back into his head. All in a day's work for the ninth episode of a Game of Thrones season. —Tim
Other great Game of Thrones Season 3 episodes: "Walk of Punishment," "And Now His Watch Is Ended," "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"
Justified's "Decoy" – Season 4, Episode 11
What made it one of the best: A variation on a caper episode, "Decoy" was a treat that broke the Justified formula without ever breaking the Justified mold. Instead of giving us a typical case for Raylan to crack while being handsome, the tense hour was practically a real-time game of hide-n-seek to the death... yet the dialogue was still as witty and poetic as ever. And Colton and Tim's back-and-forth must be commended as a highlight of the season. This masterful effort just narrowly edged out the ultra-violent "Outlaw." —Tim
Other great Justified Season 4 episodes: "Hole in the Wall," "This Bird Has Flown," "Outlaw"
Supernatural's "As Time Goes By" – Season 8, Episode 12
What made it one of the best: After putting a halt on the Apocalypse back
in Season 5, the little show that refuses to die—much like the Winchesters
themselves—seemed to struggle from a severe case of aimlessness in the
following seasons. After all, how do you top the Apocalypse as the ultimate
Worst Possible Outcome Ever, or out-evil the Prince of Evil himself? “As Time
Goes By” effortlessly added another chapter to the Winchester family history
and set up the senior CW series (and last existing relic from the semi-glorious WB
days) with plenty, and I mean plenty
of excellent material to work with in the future. Also, Grandpa Winchester was
a total BAMF. —MaryAnn Sleasman
Other great Supernatural Season 8 episodes: “Everybody Hates Hitler,” “LARP and the Real Girl,” “Trial and Error”
The Americans' "Trust Me" – Season 1, Episode 6
What made it one of the best: If there were any doubts that The Americans would never get real, like street real, "Trust Me" slammed those doubts on the ground and mercilessly pummeled them in the face like Liz did to Claudia. Paranoia was the key here, with the walls of three storylines closing in simultaneously around different characters. But it was Elizabeth and Phillip's brutal detention that really raised the bar in the early goings of this excellent series. After a consistently awesome first season, there are a lot of episodes that could claim to be The Americans' best; "Trust Me" just happens to be the one that cemented it as FX's latest fantastic watch. —Tim
Other great The Americans Season 1 episodes: "Pilot," "Safe House," "The Colonel," heck, all of 'em!
Dexter's "Are You...?" – Season 7, Episode 1
What made it one of the best: The Season 7 premiere of Dexter had a lot to prove. The show's sixth season emphatically displayed that its premise hadn't grown stale, and that for it to be viable or interesting moving forward, the writers
had to play the card they'd been withholding for years: letting Deb in
on Dexter's secret. After multiple season's worth of letting Dexter
skirt by without too much consequence, "Are You...?" dropped the hammer
on Dex and allowed the show to downshift into more subdued explorations
of his relationship with his sister. The show, at least in the first half of
Season 7, turned fascinatingly quiet and talky, and gave Michael C. Hall
and especially Jennifer Carpenter tremendous material to work with. The
premiere built up a lot of goodwill for Dexter's upcoming endgame; without it, who knows where the show might heading in its soon-to-debut final season. —Cory Barker
Other great Dexter Season 7 episodes: "The Dark...Whatever," "Sunshine and Frosty Swirl," "Surprise, Motherfucker!"
Louie's "Miami" – Season 3, Episode 3
What made it one of the best: With all apologies to the incredibly empowering "Late Show" trilogy (or really Louie's entire third season, which was incredible), seeing Louie at his awkwardest was what made for the best Louie episode of the year. In a sitcom world obsessed with men who are bursting with machoness or crippled with nerdiness, "Miami" dove into the middle ground, creating a budding platonic friendship between two regular guys who would never normally be friends and exploring how masculinity plays into male relationships without ever uttering the term "bromance." Squeamish, insightful, and hilarious, "Miami" may have been the bravest half-hour of television all year. —Tim
Other great Louie Season 3 episodes: "Telling Jokes/Set Up," "Daddy's Girlfriend" Parts 1 & 2, "Late Show" Parts 1, 2, & 3, "New Year's Eve"
Arrow's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" – Season 1, Episode 22
What made it one of the best: Even though it took 22 episodes to get to this point, this late-season entry showcased what will hopefully be Arrow's Season 2 modus operandi: Team Arrow—Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity—in the field working together to take
down the villain of the week or advance the seasonal arc in some way.
"Darkness on the Edge of Town" was zippy, fun, and actually felt like a
comic-book caper in all the best possible ways. Even ridiculous
developments in the Oliver-Laurel relationship couldn't distract from the series finally coming into its own. —Noel Kirkpatrick
Other great Arrow Season 1 episodes: "Pilot," "Damaged," "The Odyssey"
Rectify's "Drip, Drip" – Season 1, Episode 5
What made it one of the best: Sundance Channel's first original drama was no novice effort, and after a soft start, the show reached places we never expected in its second half. "Drip, Drip" was pure Southern neo-Gothic drama with its hallucinated visits from the Devil in the guise of a goat-stealing slob, emotional baptism for a troubled soul, and literally breathtaking ending. Aden Young's soulful performance drove this episode, and he had some great people to work with in Adelaide Clemens (Tawny) and W. Earl Brown (The Goatman). If this is an example of what's in store for the series, we are in great hands... even if they're going to drag us to Hell. —Tim
Other great Rectify Season 1 episodes: "Modern Times," "Plato's Cave," "Jacob's Ladder"
New Girl's "Cooler" – Season 2, Episode 15
What made it one of the best: THEY
KISSED! THEY KISSED! OMG GUYS NICK AND
JESS KISSED! But the big smooch was sweet and amazing and heartfelt without
being maudlin. And while it didn't happen until the end of “Cooler,” the lead-up featured—in addition to
Nick's quest for "the right time"—an epic round of True
American, and True American immediately gives any episode ALL of the
points. Clinton rules: Pick your intern! —MaryAnn
Other great New Girl Season 2 episodes: “Table 34,” “TinFinity,” “Virgins,” “A Father’s Love”
The Walking Dead's "Clear" – Season 3, Episode 12
What made it one of the best: The third season of AMC's megahit had its share of ups and downs, plus a few extra downs and multiple trips to and from Woodbury, but who could've guessed this isolated sidequest episode would stand out as the season's best? Anchored by a strong performance from Lennie James in his return to the show as a broken-and-beaten Morgan (the first we'd seen of the character since the pilot), "Clear" did more to put the zombie apocalypse into perspective than any of the hours that preceded it. Most importantly, after drawing complaints about wafer-thin characters, "Clear" brought Rick, Carl, and Michonne to life. Yes, even Michonne! The show just had to ignore its dragging season-long plot to pull it off. —Tim
Other great The Walking Dead Season 3 episodes: "Seed," "Killer Within," When the Dead Come Knocking"
Person of Interest's "Prisoner's Dilemma" – Season 2, Episode 12
What made it one of the best: I fielded lots of requests to put "Zero Day" on this list as the entry for Person of Interest's second season, but I think "Prisoner's Dilemma" was its most shining hour. Structurally distinct, dense with story, and funnier than it had any right to be, this episode was as complete as the show has ever been. While Reese's backstory came out through an interrogation and flashbacks, Fusco handled the week's number—a sexy Victoria's Secret model—in the season's best two-minute story arc. And who can forget the hilarious moment when combat-untested Finch geared up to break his best friend Reese out of prison? Person of Interest continues to defy the procedural shoebox it's often placed in, and "Prisoner's Dilemma" was the best example of the series being a heck of a lot better than critics say it is. —Tim
Other great Person of Interest Season 2 episodes: "Contingency," "Relevance," "Zero Day"
Last Resort's "Skeleton Crew" – Season 1, Episode 5
What made it one of the best: After a stellar pilot, ABC's military thriller took a few episodes to really start fulfilling its potential. But when it did, wowza! Boosted by guest-star Jay Karnes, "Skeleton Crew" weaved multiple stories and ticking clocks with ease for an hour that left viewers panting. Marcus threatened to eat a man's eye in a fierce standoff, Kendal doubted the sanity of his dear captain, and Grace took control of both the Colorado and a difficult situation. Last Resort never made it to a full season, but "Skeleton Crew" was proof that it should have. —Tim
Other great Last Resort Season 1 episodes: "Captain," "Nuke it Out," "Controlled Flight Into Terrain"
30 Rock's "A Goon's Deed in a Weary World" – Season 7, Episode 11
What made it one of the best: Besides being one of the funniest episodes of the outstanding final season, “A Goon’s Deed” also served up a rare, heartwarming win for ol’ Liz Lemon. To help her prepare for the long-awaited arrival of her adopted twins, the TGS staff for once rallied behind their fearless leader. In proper 30 Rock fashion, their support arrived in the form of what they’d always done best:
slacking off and screwing up the show. Liz’s twins turning out to be
pint-size incarnations of Jenna and Tracy was the goofily logical
cherry on top. —Andy
Other great 30 Rock Season 7 episodes: "Mazel Tov, Dummies!," "My Whole Life is Thunder," "Hogcock/Last Lunch"
Breaking Bad's "Say My Name" – Season 5, Episode 7
What made it one of the best: Yeah, the show needed to kill Mike, and the episode
felt very much like it was conceived with that end point in mind, but it was such a perfect sendoff for
the curmudgeonly criminal. Throughout his entire run,
Mike had been disrespected by everyone: The DEA thought they could break
him, Lydia thought she could kill him by proxy, Walter forced him
back into the business. This most hard-boiled of the hard-boiled was
forced to deal with amateurs and arrogant assholes, and they finally got
him in the end. Just like with the innocent kid killed in "Dead Freight,"
Mike's death was pointless and unnecessary (Walter could've gotten
those legacy names from Lydia), and it served as the final sign of just how little
control Walter ultimately had. —Noel
Other great Breaking Bad Season 5 episodes: "Madrigal," "Fifty-One," "Dead Freight," "Gliding Over All"
Mad Men's "For Immediate Release" – Season 6, Episode 6
What made it one of the best: There are some episodes of Mad Men that cram an awful lot of symbolism crammed into an hour. In fact, one could argue that most episodes of Mad Men are all about the meaning of the things… which
is why episodes where stuff actually happens are so important. Not only did plenty of stuff happen in “For Immediate Release,” it was also just plain delightful to watch as Megan’s miserable mom got sauced, Roger seduced a flight attendant, and the unholy union of Don
Draper and Ted Chaough brought their formerly rival firms together with a monstrous
merger. Peggy was thrilled. —MaryAnn
Other great Mad Men Season 6 episodes: "The Flood," "The Better Half"
Wilfred's "Progress" – Season 2, "Special Preview Episode"
What made it one of the best: Never mind that "Progress" was labeled as a "special preview episode," that was just some poor marketing on FX's part. This episode was the zany comedy's true Season 2 premiere and a fine example of Wilfred at its weirdo best. In the end it was all a dream (though in Wilfred's world, the question of "OR WAS IT?" certainly applies) but it tapped into the question of Ryan's sanity splendidly. And don't forget the bong wheelchair, Robin Williams' guest stint, and Bear driving a getaway car!!! Wilfred is always good for an entertaining half-hour, but a few times a season, it breaks through its own ceiling and reaches a level of greatness that few other comedies achieve. "Progress" was the series' best. —Tim
Other great Wilfred Season 2 episodes: "Control," "Truth," "Secrets"
Orphan Black's "Entangled Bank" – Season 1, Episode 8
What made it one of the best: There were a lot of options to choose from in Orphan Black's strong, consistently great first season, but I loved the complete package of "Entangled Bank." Like the clones at the center of the BBC America series, Orphan Black puts on many faces. It's part mystery thriller, part sci-fi drama, and part darkly comedic suburban nightmare. And every aspect of the show got a workout in this frenetic episode as the season hit a high in the insanity department. Huge revelations abounded, and a shocking ending paved the way for more secrets in the following installment. But it was soccer mom Alison letting loose, smokin' doobs, and singing Meredith Brooks that cemented the series' knack for pure entertainment with a timely injection of humor into an otherwise very serious show. —Tim
Other great Orphan Black Season 1 episodes: "Variations Under Domestication," "Unconscious Selection," "Endless Forms Most Beautiful"
Honorable mentions: Sons of Anarchy's "Laying Pipe"; Alphas' "When Push Comes to Shove"/"The Devil Will Drag You Under"; Bunheads' "Movie Truck"; Archer's "Legs"; House of Cards' "Chapter 8"; Elementary's "The Woman"; Suits' "Rewind"; American Horror Story's "I Am Anne Frank (Parts 1 & 2)"; Comedy Bang Bang's "Paul Rudd Wears a Red Lumberjack Flannel Shirt"; Spartacus's "Victory"; The Vampire Diaries' "Graduation"; Boardwalk Empire's "Two Impostors"
Think we left something out? Want to praise our excellent taste? Let's hear it!
AIRED ON 12/14/2016
Season 4 : Episode 8